Thu, 25 Oct 2007
Philip Glass and Patti Smith 20071019
I've been a fan of Philip Glass's works
for a few years now, although I have not managed to collect many recordings yet.
I'm not even sure where I started with him, but must have heard the music in various
films and other places. He's doing a series of concerts to celebrate his 70th
birthday, so I really wanted to get to see him as there may not be another chance.
I could have fancied Music in 12 Parts, but I thought that my other half would not
last the four hours. An alternative was a performance, with Patti Smith, of some
Alan Ginsberg poetry. I'm not really into poetry, but thought I would take the chance.
I initially assumed that the venue was the Barbican,
but it was actually St Luke's down the road. This is
a former church converted to a performance area. We went to their crypt cafe in hope of decent
food, but they were only serving sandwiches. The performance started, as promised, at 7:30pm.
We were seated on the balcony, itself an impressive steel structure. There was a stage with a piano
and very subtle speakers around it. You barely need amplification in a venue that small.
PG and PS entered to great applause and lauched into the first poem with PG playing one
of his dances that I know well. It was actually one of Patti's poems, but the words
washed over me as I revelled in hearing one of my heroes play the piano with me having
a great view over his shoulder. There was more poetry and som chat from Patti. It seems that
they were both close friends of Ginsberg and she had some nice anecdotes. We enjoyed her
presentation style. PG then played a few solo pieces. His annoucing was very stilted. I'm
guessing that he does not often do public speaking. The pieces were some I didn't know, but
were very much of his style. I thought that he was going to stumble in the first. I think that
at his age this can be pardoned and he kept going well. Patti then sang some of her own songs
with her guitarist, both on acoustic guitars. Then I think there were a couple more poems to
finish. It was all over by 9pm.
I would have preferred to just have PG perform his works, but this was a satisfactory
compromise and a new experience in general.
Mon, 15 Oct 2007
I've been using ZapDVB as a simple TV and
radio recorder via my DVB/Freeview card. It's generally worked well, but has let me down
a couple of times lately for no obvious reason. It has some nice features, like being
very unobtrusive and converting radio recordings to Ogg Vorbis, but it's a bit limited
if you want more of a 'Media PC' where you can watch TV and choose to record at any time
or select what you want to record from an EPG.
I've heard a lot about MythTV. It can be a full
media PC if you want or can be used on a normal desktop. I followed the
Ubuntu guide to make it do
everything on my PC and let me use it as normal. You can get clever and have one or more
dedicated 'backend' machines doing to recording and processing, but that's more than I
need. Much as I'd love to have a dedicated media PC, and another for music making, I can't
really justify the expense, space requirements and power consumption just now.
I had a couple of issues with the install and set-up. Firstly I couldn't configure my TV card.
This turned out to be incorrect tables in the database it uses. I forced the re-install of
those and it worked. Then it took me a while to get the right set of channels with appropriate
EPG, but now it's working.
The GUI is very oriented towards a set-top box using a remote control with everything running
full screen and simple menus. You can use it via the keyboard, but you have to learn what all the
keys are. I'm still finding some. There's a list in the
documentation. I also need to work
out how to do things like converting recorded files to other formats and getting access to stuff I've
recorded in the past. I need to read up on plug-ins and themes that might help.
I did a bit of music performance at the weekend. My kids have been attending the
Bedfordshire Music Saturday Music Centre
at Biggleswade for a few weeks. They can do various activities for a few pounds a week each.
They both show encouraging signs of musical ability that I want to foster. The last session
was a special one where adults were encouraged to bring instruments. About ten did and an
orchestra was formed from the kids and adults to play a piece written by one of the music staff.
I took my electric guitar to have any chance of being heard and ended up playing some chords
on the middle east flavoured tune. It was good fun. I hope there might be some more opportunities
for me to play.
Ages ago a friend gave me an ancient
Alesis Microverb that he
had lying around. It lay around my shelves for a few more years until I passed it on. Last week
it bounced back to me. It's not worth much on ebay, but I thought I should at least check that
it worked. I linked it into the effects look of my Peavey and fired it up. It's actually quite fun
with reverbs from a small room to an 'infinite space'. I expect it could be even more impressive
in stereo. I may as well hang on to it and see if it can find a place in my 'studio'. Not that I
will come anywhere near the scale of Malc's racks.
I expect I could do most of what I need with software effects, but some hardware may add an extra flavour.
Thu, 11 Oct 2007
Listening to Rainbows
I downloaded my copy of In Rainbows
last night. I've listened to it a couple of times, but it was whilst working so
it did not have my full attention. It's definitely Radiohead. It is not a massive
change of direction by any means. That's not necessarily a bad thing as what they
were doing was good to my ears. I'm happy with it so far and will wait to see which
tracks grow on me most.
I've seen some comments around about the bit rate of the files. I've not confirmed
myself if it is CBR or VBR. I can't see any reason why it should be the former. Is
there any software or hardware in use that doesn't do VBR? It's going to give you slightly
better quality for a given file size. I'm fairly sure that the old BBC Beethoven downloads
were something like 128kb CBR, which is just silly, especially for classical music.
I accept that your average listener would not know what I am on about, but I think it
matters. They may have been brainwashed in the past that 128kb in some form was
'CD quality', but it isn't. Higher rates definitely sound better to me, but I would
struggle to tell a CD from anything over 200kb. As for recent claims that MP3 and other
lossy formats only contain 10% of the information, that's rubbish too. Most of what they
get rid of is what you can't hear.
There's a lot of rubbish talked about audio quality in general. A
recent Slashdot story
generated a lot of discussion of 'audiophile gadgets', from $7000 speaker cables to $500
volume knobs, to magical digital clocks, to system upgrades over the phone?!?. Various
examples listed here. I'd love
to have a reasonable set-up to listen to my music on, but I'm not sure I could bring myself
to spend more than a few hundred on a CD player, amp and speakers, with some reasonable cables.
Still, I suppose it's not a crime to take peoples' money if it is given willingly.
Tue, 09 Oct 2007
I just had an email update about the Radiohead album
that I ordered. The download is available from tomorrow. I had concerns that it would be in
some locked-down format that I might not be able to play on Linux, but...
THE ALBUM WILL COME AS A 48.4MB ZIP FILE CONTAINING 10 X 160KBPS DRM FREE MP3s. (their caps)
Shame it's not Ogg Vorbis, but you can't have everything.
I expect it to be on the file-sharing networks withing seconds of being available. Personally
I wouldn't care if it had watermarking to identify who bought that copy. That sort of protection
does not infringe on my ability to listen to the music how and where I wish, but would identify
those breaching any restrictions on sharing.
I shall report further when I've had a chance to listen. It's LUG
Fri, 05 Oct 2007
A couple of weekends back Malc held a little
party at his country estate. Lots of music was made that included me doing some singing
and drumming. I was impressed by some great dancing and singing by
Justine. I took the kids and they enjoyed it, but
that meant that we had to leave early, so I missed a few turns. Malc has
listed the performances.
a few pictures.
The big musical news this week was Radiohead suddenly announcing that their new album is
imminent after months of teasing us with reports from the studio. They even issued a series of coded
messages before the announcement. The big deal is that In Rainbows
will be released as a download next week and as a box set of CDs and LPs in December. You can set your own
price for the download, but the box set is 40 quid! (Not Quids).
It will be interesting to see what people will pay when given the choice. Sucker that I am I went for
the box set, but I get the download too. I wonder what format it will be in and if it will be
usable on Linux.
Sticking with audio, but on a different front, Skype
a new version of their Linux client. It's still a couple of digits behind the Windows one and so still
lacks the much-lusted-after video feature. It's supposed to offer better audio quality, but I have
yet to test this. There have been major changes to the GUI. The menus have gone, but you can get at most
of them via a non-obvious button. One thing I preferred about the old Linux version over Windows was
the way it showed groups. It showed all contacts in shrinkable groups rather than one group at a time.
Now there is no sign of groups and I can't see how to hide those who are off-line. I use Skype mainly for
keeping in touch with people at work, but make the odd voice call. Video will be useful to see the new
baby in the family, but I will have to use my Windows laptop for that.
Thu, 27 Sep 2007
I shall try a lazyweb request. I'm getting some grief that our Linux computer does
not allow us to view video over Skype. I really don't want to have to have a Windows PC
at home and Skype seem in no rush to update the Linux client. So are there any other
options that would allow non-technical relatives to use their webcam on a Windows PC
so that we could watch the video? Ideally we would like voice communication as well.
Two-way video would be great, but this means finding a Linux-supported webcam.
It seems tricky to find a definitive list of those that work.
I await a flood of suggestions ;)
Wed, 26 Sep 2007
Considering a change
I may have mentioned this before, but much as I like the simplicity of
Pyblosxom, I sometimes wish for a blog
system that made it easier to post and to change aspects of my site. For instance,
I'm writing this post in a text editor and will then have to FTP it to the server.
If I've missed out a closing tag or something I'll have to repeat the process.
One reason for using Pyblosxom was that I wanted to play with Python and I thought
that I might write some code for my site, but that just hasn't happened. The software
has been developed further, but I'm a little behind on versions. Someone has even
written a new web front end,
but that still may not be enough to keep me.
A few friends have been using Wordpress. Even
though I'm not mad on it using PHP and MySQL, I appreciate that it will give me much
more flexibility and make it very easy to change things. There seems to be a good
variety of plug-ins for cool things like OpenID that I want to play with.
Bigpresh set me up a site to play with on his
server and I'm impressed.
So unless my fanbase (which may exceed that of
Flight of the Conchords) objects
I plan to move over to Wordpress soon. I may well leave the Pyblosxom site here
to avoid breaking anyone's links.
Fri, 21 Sep 2007
Semantic Web Kicking Off?
I've been reading about the Semantic Web for
about 3 years now. It makes sense to me that web pages should be readable by software as well
as by people. With the right software you can tell from my site where I live, who I know and
what sites are about me. Of course, you will only get the information I choose to share.
It's disappointing that more people are not making use of these technologies. They allow for
so many cool things, like finding out what web sites are based in your area. Ultimately they
could make search much more effective, even bearing in mind an
old essay by Cory Doctorow.
In the last couple of weeks things have started looking up. Firstly I found
Foafing the Music that looks at my
FOAF (warning, site not updated in ages) file
and tries to work out what music I might like based on what information I have there.
Interesting, but just a toy for now.
This week I read about
Six Apart adding semantic features like FOAF and XFN. They also
use OpenID, echoing my thoughts on
open social networks.
A comment elsewhere on that story revealed that photo site
Smugmug was also
getting on the FOAF/XFN bandwagon.
I've written one small program that collects geographical information from a set of sites to
display on a Google map. I'd like to do more in that area.
Tue, 18 Sep 2007
The weekend was mostly spent at Malc's for
Beat Camp. Unfortunately not many
people could make it on Saturday, so basically it was me and Malc playing dun dun (big drums) all afternoon,
with breaks for some chat and playing in his studio. Marjolein came along after dinner for some indoor
Sunday was better attended with up to a dozen of us out in the sunshine learning some new songs.
My brain was totally full. After both days I was exhausted and ready for sleep by 10pm. It was all great fun.
I even got to perform on the debut performance of an
old song. We're due to perform some of the
new material at Malc's garden party this coming weekend. We shall see how much I can remember.
I'm not a drum machine.
The kids got some extra music too when we went along to
Bedfordshire Music's Saturday Music Centre. They are both
showing signs of musical talent so we're happy to encourage them. I quite enjoy making music with my kids.
My fledging music studio (sic) gained a microphone stand from Ebuyer,
along with a solar powered
charger to charge my phone and PDAs. It has an internal battery so that I can take it along to
extend the battery life.
Since my LUG talk about OpenStreetmap I've been playing with
BSGPSPDA on my PDA/GPS thingy. It shows great promise
as it can show the OSM maps for a given location, but you have to download them first. I wrote a little Python
script to do this that works very nicely. I would really like to develop it into a proper GUI application
that shows the maps and lets you choose an area to download. That will mean learning some more Python.
I've had a few issues with the PDA software, but I've been in contact with the author and he is working
on them. I already have a new version to try. Try that with Microsoft!
Thu, 13 Sep 2007
Hert LUG 20070912
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I gave a brief talk on OpenStreetmap a year on from the
presentation by some of their main people.
I posted to my diary that I was doing a talk and was
sent a document used by the founder in one of his presentations. This is why I so enjoy working in this
sort of group. Most people there are helpful and friendly. Everyone is working for the good of the project
rather than their own gain, although I expect many people are looking to gain something from it, even if
it's just a free map of their local area.
The talk went down well with the well attended meeting. There were lots of questions, but I had some
help from others who had also played with OSM.
I have some work to do in mapping out my recent traces from Ireland and Israel. I've had some issues with
the latest JOSM editor, but just received some hints on that to try out. I also have some new software to
play with from Bettersoftware. Unfortunately you can't access
the details on the site without registering. It looks good as it allows for copying the rendered map tiles from
the OSM site onto your PDA so that you can see them as you move around. This will make it much easier to see
what has been mapped already and could also be useful for finding your way around new places. I need to play with
Also at the LUG, Rob spoke about his experiences with trying to
write a Linux USB interface to a little phot-displaying keyring device. He's been trying to reverse engineer the
protocol by analysing the data transferred when it talks to it's Windows software. Interesting stuff, but I'm not
sure I would have the patience. There are other applications I would like to develop when I find the time.
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